Ahead by two goals, U.S. defense collapses and Mexico cruises to capture Gold Cup.
By Robert Wagman
(Sunday, June 26, 2011) -- Mexico easily overcame a two-goal deficit to capture the CONCACAF Gold Cup championship by outpacing and overrunning the United States men 4-2 last night in front of a sold-out Rose Bowl crowd of 92,420.
The key moment in the match came in the fourth minute when U.S. defender Steve Cherundolo was hit across the ankle by teammate Jermaine Jones. He gamely tried to go on, but had to come off in the 11th minute. With few options available, Bob Bradley had to insert Jonathan Bornstein on the left side of defense and move Eric Lichaj to the right, a position where he plays in Europe.
The simple fact of the matter was every Mexican attacker was faster and quicker than any American defender. Often beaten to the ball as well as by runs off the ball, the U.S. defense was a shambles for much of the game.
The American got off to a dream start. In the eighth minute, midfielder Freddy Adu, the best U.S. player over the first hour, whipped a corner kick which Michael Bradley let skim off his head into the net for a 1-0 lead. Twelve minutes later, somewhat against the run of play, striker Landon Donovan and midfielder Clint Dempsey exchanged great passes and Donovan went around goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera to make it 2-0.
From that point on, it was all Mexico. Its pace and skill constantly bedeviled the American defense and its pace and physical play gave it control of the midfield which resulted in few opportunities for the U.S. forwards.
"I think (Mexico has) some very good attacking players and I think that we do too," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "I think sometimes a final becomes a real test of both teams going after each other. That was the way we chose to play this game, knowing that it would still require good reactions defensively to deal with those situations. In there, there are some plays where our reactions don't end up being as good and sometimes there are some plays where at the end you give credit."
Mexico coach Jose Manuel De La Torre made a key early substitution, pulling Carlos Salcido and inserting Jorge Torres Nilo into the midfield in the 28th minute, and immediately Mexico settled down and was back into the game.
Mexico has one of the best young attacks in the world and it was on full display last night. Two of its four goals were scored not by headliners Javier Hernandez or Giovani dos Santos, but by Pablo Barrera of England's West Ham United. Dos Santos did score a highlight-reel goal to end the Mexican scoring.
In the end, the Mexicans were simply too fast and too skilled for what amounted to a patched-together U.S. defense. The consistent pressure and lightning-quick attacks were simply too much for the Americans to handle and the better team emerged as Gold Cup champion.
"We started the game pretty well and then made the most of two chances," Donovan said. "We had a little letdown and let them back into the game, and they got a little bit of a sloppy goal to tie the game. And then we didn't come out well in the second half.
"You have to give Mexico a lot of credit. They are difficult team to play against and they have a bunch of guys that can make special plays."
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 4: The U.S. needed from Howard one of his best games and instead he delivered an average one. His defense was not much help, but he should have prevented at least two of Mexico's goals.
Defender Eric Lichaj - 3: Was just overrun all night. He did not have the pace to stop attacks down the wing and failed to clear balls he should have. He was never a threat offensively.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 5: Essentially was asked to cover the entire right side of defense for much of the match. Given the speed he was facing, that was too big a task. He was often pulled out of position and not able to respond where needed.
Defender Clarence Goodson - 4: Had a lot of trouble with Javier Hernandez throughout the night. He gave up some easy chances and was lucky they did not result in more Mexican goals.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - no raiting: Went out early with an injury caused by a teammate. While he was in, he made the play that resulted in the corner kick, leading to the first U.S. goal.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 5: An inconsistent performance. Put in a lot of effort, but had trouble with Mexico's pace in the middle. Except for Adu, he was the only U.S. player up to the level of physical play. Was still running after 90 minutes.
Midfielder Freddy Adu - 6.5: Great corner kick, leading to first U.S. goal, involved in the second American tally and one of the few players who stood up to Mexico's physical game. He visibly tired from the pounding he took in the second half. Put himself squarely back in the national-team picture.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 5: Great pass on the second U.S. goal and a fine effort over the first 45 minutes, but he was beaten up physically and in the end his very long club season seemed to catch up with him.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: He had a very uneven match. At times, he made great plays at both ends, as with the first U.S. goal, but then failed to deliver in key moments.
Forward Alejandro Bedoya - 4: Had a few good moments early on the wing, but was ineffective when he came into the middle and was never really in the match offensively..
Forward Landon Donovan - 5: Was great at moments, but he faded as the match progressed. Was asked to play on top, where he was repeatedly harassed by physical defenders. Again, he showed he is better out of the midfield.
Defender Jonathan Bornstein (11th minute for Cherundolo) - 2: Was never in the match. Was constantly beaten down his side and was often out of the picture at key moments. Being thrown in after not playing for a month was simply too much to ask.
Forward Juan Agudelo (63rd minute for Bedoya) - 3: He has to be able to play more physically. The first three times he touched the balls, he was roughly shouldered off and things did not improve much thereafter.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan (86th minute for Adu) - 6. In a short appearance, he made several outstanding plays that went for naught.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Freddy Adu.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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